Playing in the sky

“You have to make your own fun,” Dad told me. His comment embodied both a life philosophy and the financial reality of our eastern Iowa dairy farm in the 1950s. So as often as not, our fun came from what we made rather than something we bought.

One year when the March winds were strong enough to make a skinny kid like me think I could stand on a hilltop, spread my arms and fly, Dad taught us to make kites.  He brought dowel rods to the dining room table; Mom dismantled brown paper bags. He showed us how to measure and cut, fold and glue until we had a sturdy diamond-shaped kite.

We were giddy with anticipation as we carried our kite to the field south of the house. Dad coached one of us to run with the kite while another played out the string.

Time after time, the kite swooped in the air and then nosedived into the ground.  It just would not fly. Dad stood perplexed. Then he remembered. “A kite needs a tail,” he proclaimed. Back to the house we trooped.

Mom dug an old sheet out of her rag drawer and we tore it into strips. We crafted one long strip, knotted smaller cloth strips down the length, and tied it to the end of the kite.

Back in the field, one good run, one solid gust of wind, and that kite took off, its fancy tail sailing in the wake. “Let out the string!” Dad urged. It was all he could do to leave the ball of string in my hands.

We played the kite out. It soared higher and higher. Swooping. Diving. As high as an airplane! We had made our own fun and it reached the sky.

This piece was published in the April 2009 “Fiftysomething” section of the Des Moines Register

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